Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01 Thrice Upon a Time, on Prime

Shinji Ikari's father issues are pretty extreme. Gendo Ikari has done his best to sever all connections to his son, while leading a shadowy conspiracy to destroy the world and re-create humanity into a single collective consciousness. Yet, you could say “like father, like son,” since Shinji has almost inadvertently destroyed the world, not once, but twice. That is a lot for one young person to bear. Not surprisingly, the angst-ridden mecha-pilot is not holding up well in creator-chief director Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01: Thrice Upon a Time, the [most likely] concluding film of the Rebuild of Evangelion reboot series, which premieres Friday on Amazon Prime (with a title like that, you know it must be an anime feature).

As the film opens, Shinji Ikari is so guilt-ridden, he has practically shut-down his body and spirit. He has been shipped off to a peaceful countryside community of survivors to recuperate, along with his fellow EVA pilots, Asuka Shikinami Langley (who both resents and carries a torch for Ikari) and Rei Ayanami (a clone of a clone, quietly imploding worse than Shinji).

Of course, this interlude cannot last. Eventually, Ikari and Langley will return to WILLE, the global defense agency led by Misato Katsuragi, who was something like a surrogate mother to Ikari. They first met while they were serving NERV, ostensibly WILLE’s forerunner, which was secretly founded by his father to hasten the final, world-shattering “Impact.”

Obviously, it is time for the final battle (at least until the next one), to be fought by Katsuragi helming the WILLE fleet, including EVAs piloted by Shikinami and her gifted comrade, Mari Illustrious Makinami (for whom Ikari might carry a torch) against the vastly greater forces of NERV. Eventually, Ikari will also have to face his father, EVA-to-EVA, in Minus-Space, where the rules of physics and scale measurement do not apply.

There are some anime series that get pretty apocalyptic, but
Thrice Upon a Time tops them all. It also outdoes all the competition when it comes to neurotic angst. Yet, that really makes 3.0+1.01 a fitting capstone to the series. Once again, Anno’s team delivers visuals that are three or four cuts about the series anime standard. The prologue battle above a ruined Paris is particularly striking. Arguably, the first act idyl in the village drags out a bit, but it ends on a potent note that is ever so true to the spirit of the franchise.

Of course, there is still a good deal of weird quasi-religious symbolism and the father-son relationship definitely takes on a Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader dynamic. Honestly though, the fourth film really requires knowledge of the first three films (which will also start streaming on Amazon 8/13). Bingeing is probably best, because the initial recap is so fragmentary, it really won’t help anyone. It would have been nice if there were less time between
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo and this one, but things like Shin Godzilla and the CCP’s cover-up and pandemic intervened.

Ironically, the final battle is more grounded, in a mecha-clashing way, than that of the original anime TV series that left fans so dissatisfied. It is definitely out there, but it pays off. Over the course of the four
Rebuild films, Evangelion has become the gold standard of mecha anime, far outshining films like Promare and Mazinger Z: Infinity. Thrice can be a bit confusing, even for franchise veterans, but it maintains that level of animation quality and the ambitious themes. Highly recommended for mecha anime fans, Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01: Thrice Upon a Time starts streaming Friday (8/13) on Amazon Prime.